Chapter 29

The following day was Thursday, and I was excited to realise that I had now spent five whole days in the twenty-first century. But what are five days compared to a lifetime? It was an excellent start, and I was already adapting to being a citizen in this Wales.

At breakfast-time, Llywarch said to me,

“I’ve arranged to take the day off today, Ifan. It will be time for you to return to your own age tomorrow, and I haven’t shown you the half yet. We’ll make a day of it today.”

I opened my mouth to tell him that I didn’t want to go back to my own age, and that I wanted to stay, and marry Mair… But I lost my nerve, and persuaded myself that the time wasn’t right yet. I could have that conversation with Llywarch another time.

I saw so much that Thursday that I can’t relate everything in the proper order. Llywarch’s energy level was frightening. During the morning he took me to the studios of the National Theatre Film Department in the Vale of Glamorgan, where some members of the National Theatre were filming ‘Gwen Tomos’[1]. I talked over a cup of tea with Rheinallt and Gwen and Twm Nansi[2], and fell into a furious argument with the producer, Lei Emwnt, about his interpretation of Daniel Owen’s intentions. Emwnt told me that we in the twentieth century had never understood the nineteenth century properly, since we were too close to it, and I could safely leave the interpretation to him. I left the entertaining company in the sunshine in the middle of the little forest, as Harri Tomos and Ernest Griffiths from  the Manor were taking their shirts off ready for the contest. I raised my hand in farewell, and went into the car.

Then we called into a school in the Vale, and sat in on a Welsh lesson. The teacher explained that these children had English as their first language, but they aimed to get to the point of being able to speak, read and write Welsh without any difficulty by the age of eleven. There were no exams now, he said, only monthly tests in each subject throughout the course of a child’s education. A detailed study was made of each child’s mind from the age of five upwards, to discern their particular talent and and prepare them for the sort of work they were most suited to do. If the child had an ordinary level of talent, they’d be prepared for life in their local area. For the exceptionally talented, education beyond the age of eleven took place in an institute where that talent could be developed to its full potential. The child was the important thing now, not the subject. I had a word with the headmaster, admired the school, and off we went.

Then I visited an old people’s home. But Llywarch warned me not to call them ‘old people’. No-one is considered old in Free Wales, he said. The home was a noble manor house, and the men and women there lived like royalty. There was no such thing as retirement, said the lady who looked after them. There was work of some sort for each of them to do, unless they’d become too feeble to do anything. This made everyone feel valued by society, and was why they were paid a ‘wage’ rather than a pension. And it was obvious from the contentment of these old people, who gardened a bit, span a bit, and painted a bit, that the policy was quite a success.  The custom was to keep old people in their society and with their families unless they were without families like the oldest of these, or unless they had chosen to live in a home. The old and sick were treated as the most privileged in Welsh society.

Then we went to a hospital. It was an open building in parkland, with its colours and furnishings and everything designed to keep the patients cheerful. I had a word with the resident doctor, and he showed me a big chart with the names of various diseases on it. The diseases that had been overcome, like tuberculosis, cancer, silicosis and polio, were printed in blue letters; those which were no longer even mentioned, like plague and leprosy, were in black print; and others, including one or two that were brand new and still being fought, were in red print. I saw four nurses playing tennis, and understood from them that nursing was the most satisfying work there could be, especially in Wales where a nurse’s salary was high and the  nurses’ hostels were like hotels. And off we went.

Somewhere in the middle of all this gadding around Llywarch ad I stopped for lunch. The Picnic Club was the name of the place, and every customer bought a tray full of food and a vacuum flask full of tea and took them to one of the big straw mats under the trees to enjoy. Throughout the meal, soft sounds of cerdd dant and folk music came from small loudspeakers in the trees above.

“What happens if it rains?” I asked.

“Don’t nitpick,” said Llywarch.

In the afternoon we visited the television station. I got hold of the Head, who had dined with us the night before, and he showed us round (a great privilege for us). In one of the studios there was a company rehearsing Lle Mynno’r Gwynt[3] ready for broadcast that night.  Outside another studio there was a red light showing that a broadcast was underway, and the Head told me that the National Orchestra were performing in there. Then, we went to the recordings library, where I spent a whole happy hour listening to voices that were familiar to me, and experiencing frissons of hiraeth in spite of myself: the voice of Sam Jones telling the audience how to behave during Ymryson y Beirdd[4], the voice of Tegla[5] broadcasting an episode of Words of Life, the voice of Gwynfor Evans giving a report on the week in the Westminster parliament, and the voices of David Lloyd George, Cynan[6], and Crwys[7]. And a horde of other voices which made me realise how rich, despite all its failings, my own Wales had been.

We went to a plastics factory, to a vineyard, to one of the Atomotor factories, where cars which had been made in Llanelli were painted and finished, and in a clothes factory run by twenty or more young women.

And then, Llywarch decided that it was time for us to have tea. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that tea. It wasn’t the tea itself that was memorable, but the conversation that took place between Llywarch and myself. In that light little café on the edge of Cardiff I got cross with him for the first time. It was there that I also saw what a great man he was.

“Well Ifan,” he said, once we had finished eating, “it’s sad to think that it’s almost time for you to go back to your own age.”

“I’m not going back, Dr. Llywarch,” I said.

He looked up.

“What do you mean, Ifan?”

“I’m staying here. Oh no, I won’t be staying in your house. I don’t want to be a burden to you, it’s been too kind of you to make me welcome for so long.  I want to look for work here and… and…”

“Go on.”

“Well, that’s all, as far as I can see.”

“I see.”

Dr. Llywarch looked past me through the window.

“You’re not saying anything, Dr. Llywarch.”

You’re not saying everything, Ifan. What has made you want to stay here? Your friends are expecting you back, your workplace, your family… Have you forgotten them all so soon?”

“Wales today is so wonderful: everyone’s in work, the language more alive than ever, culture is flowering, industry prospering. It’s… well, I want to stay here. This is the land to live in.”

“True enough. But you still haven’t said everything.”

I looked down and said,

“No. Not everything.”

“You’d better say, Ifan.”

“It’s… well, Mair and I are in love.”

“I was afraid of that.”

I looked at him.

“You knew?” I said.

“You can’t easily fool an old bird,” he said. “Yes, I’d seen all the signs. And began to worry. I’ve become very fond of you, Ifan. And I’d be very glad to see Mair make the biggest bargain of her life with you, if it weren’t for…”

“For what?”

“For time, the enemy.”

I tried to sound hurt.

“I don’t know what you mean, Dr. Llywarch.”

“You know exactly what I mean. You’ve jumped from one point in time to another, with eighty years between them. You succeeded in doing that without damage to your body or your mind. I’m grateful for that, and you should be too…”

“I am, of course…”

“But.” And here Llywarch hesitated. “It’s one thing to make a flying visit from your own time to another. Staying in that time, to live, is a different matter. We don’t know enough yet about what you call space-time to protect you from any harmful effects that could follow from playing with time like this. I can be sure that you’ll return to your own time, to the xact place that you came from, because your own moment in time is pulling you back. I can’t force you to return, of course. But it’s my firm opinion that you ought to return, in case anything bad were to happen.”

“But Mair and I…”

“I know. And I’m sorry for both of you. I should have warned you. I didn’t. I regret that bitterly. But you’ve only known each other for five days. And if you just understand that you must separate for your own good, you’ll soon forget…”

“I can’t forget. I can’t…”

“Ifan. If you love Mair, you wouldn’t want her to marry a man who could disappear from her life like a phantom without a moment’s notice.”

I looked straight at him.

“Could that happen?”

“It could easily. Time could snatch you from her side at the altar, from her arms any night…”

“Oh no…”

“And leave her a widow without anywhere to turn, without even a body to bury. Think, Ifan, think seriously. Go back before any harm is done. I’ll explain to Mair as I’ve explained to you.”

For a moment, I was furious with him. What right did he have to destroy both our lives, to make his knowledge into a wall between us in our ignorance?

“You’re trying to separate us, Dr. Llywarch, because I’m not good enough for Mair, because you don’t want her to tie herself to…”

“Ifan.” He grasped my hand, and when I felt the strong grip of that scientific hand, I knew I was talking foolishly. “Ifan, as I said, if it were possible, if I knew that it was possible for you and Mair to live happily, unharmed, here together for the rest of your lives, I’d do everything in my scientific power to bring that about. But I’m afraid, afraid in my heart…”

“I’m sorry, Dr. Llywarch. I’ve been a fool. Forgive me.”

“Come, my boy. You’d better go back tonight. And therefore, we’d better go to prepare at once.”

[1] The last of Daniel Owen’s great 19th Century Welsh novels, following ‘Rhys Lewis’ and ‘Enoc Huws’.

[2] Characters from the book.

[3] ‘Where the wind wills’, the title of a play written by John Gwilym Jones. Curiously, the first edition of this play appears to have been published in 1958, the year after Islwyn Ffowc Elis published this story. One assumes that the two men were acquainted and that Elis had some knowledge of what Jones was working on

[4] ‘The poets’ tournament’, a poetry competition which was broadcast on Welsh television in the 1940s and 50s, and was later revived as ‘Talwrn y Beirdd’ (‘The poets’ cockpit’, the latter word used in the sense of a fighting arena) on Radio Cymru and S4C.

[5] Edward Tegla Davies (1880-1967), a Wesleyan Methodist minister, children’s author and religious broadcaster.

[6] Sir Albert Evans-Jones (1895-1970), a Calvinistic Methodist minister, playwright, author and Archdruid from 1950 to 1954 and again from 1963 to 1966.

[7] William Williams (1875-1968), a Congregational minister, poet, author, and Archdruid from 1938 to 1947.

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